“We’re going where?” I asked. I’m always up for new things, but this seemed a little incongruent. Here was my cultured, sophisticated, intellectual guy, a man who reads in three languages, a classical musician, a connoisseur of art films. And now he was standing in front of me holding out two tickets to…Lucha Libre? Seriously?
I never had so much fun.
What is Lucha Libre?
Think of the most ridiculous, outrageous, theatrical professional wrestling you can imagine. Then put masks on the competitors and crank it up notch. Is it choreographed? Surely, but it’s damn good choreography. More theater than sport? Perhaps, but who cares? It’s great entertainment. And the Luchadores are certainly athletes.
As one might expect, this colorful sport has a colorful history. The French brought Greco-Roman style wrestling to Mexico during the Second Intervention in 1863. But this is Mexico, a place where rules are meant to be contorted. And over time they were. Wrestling remained a regional phenomenon until 1933, when Salvador Lutteroth Gonzales founded the Mexican Wrestling Enterprise. Television arrived in Mexico around the same time and helped Lucha Libre become wildly popular throughout the country.
Something about the mystique of being masked allowed certain wrestlers to cross over from sports super star into something bigger. Into the stuff of legends. Or even mythology. The best example is Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, better known as “El Santo”. The silver-masked Santo arrived on the scene in 1942. His career went on for decades, and he evolved into a cultural icon and a multi-media star, appearing in films and comic books. Of course, he needed a worthy adversary, and he had one in Blue Demon. Santo and Blue Demon are both dead now, but the respectful rivalry continues. Their sons, “Hijo del Santo” and “Blue Demon Junior” carry on the family business.
Like any sports event, part of the fun is enjoying the enthusiasm of the crowd. The stadium we were in that night wasn’t very full, perhaps because an important football (soccer) game being shown on TV. But the people who were there were very enthusiastic- whole families with small children, many sporting the masks and colors of their favorite Luchadores. We got beer and snacks and sat down to enjoy the action.
Watching the fighting, I was impressed by the acrobatics involved. Lucha Libre is often referred to as “high flying”. After a few fights, I thought I might get bored. But then the announcer said something I didn’t understand and wild cheer went up from the crowd. Out walked one of the “mini-estrellas”. (Forgive me, I’m about to be very politically incorrect.) He was a midget, or dwarf, or just a short person. I don’t know. What I do know is that when you see a small person pick up a bulky, full grown man, flip him in the air, then jump on him and pin him to the ground it makes you smile. Then amidst all of this theatrical brutality- punching and kicking and throwing- he attempted to do one of the worst things you can do to a Lucha Libre competitor, take off his mask.
After the “mini-estrella” came a few tag teams. And then the women. Between fighters the announcer gave the score of the football game, “Mexico uno, Costa Rica cero,” and the crowd roared it’s approval. Then came the Luchador(a) who I found to be the most entertaining of the evening- a transvestite. He/she would throw his/her competitor on the ground, pin them down by straddling their chest, and then…kiss them! It was too much.
If You Can’t Make It to Mexico
If you can see Lucha Libre in Mexico, do. If not, have no fear. Lucha Libre has become a world-wide phenomenon. (Click here to find events in the U.S.) Scanning Flickr for photos for this post, I quickly found shots taken in London, San Francisco and Prague. There’s also other media. El Santo has a filmography that looks like Hitchcock’s (okay, maybe not in quality, but definitely in quantity). It’s pretty amusing on the tele too. The last time I was watching it was two female tag teams. One of the fighters was named “Sexy Estrella” (Sexy Star) and it was hilarious listening to the announcer rapidly and enthusiastically announce every move made by “La Sexy”.
But be warned, once you’ve experienced Lucha Libre, other sports can seem awfully dull.